Scuba diving with compressed air is something that many people do when they are on holiday and Cabo Pulmo has the only coral reef on the Baja Peninsula. I dove there in December and it is worth a visit. The unique feature I saw there missing from many reefs around the world was the abundance of big game fish. In many places the big fish have been killed off by spear fishermen. I’ve been diving in Saipan, Guam, Malaysia, Thailand, Okinawa, Hawaii, Cebu, Palawan, Cyprus, Bahamas etc. so I should know! Another thing is you can swim with thousand pound Sea Lions which is quite the adventure. Just beware that they defecate frequently and it is like an underwater brown bomb going off and you will find yourself in a poop cloud! Don’t open your mouth in surprise!
You have to check carefully to see if your travel or medical insurance policy covers recreational scuba. If it does then there is usually a requirement to be accompanied by a Dive Master (a professional guide) when you dive. If you stay above 33 feet, you cannot get the bends and the only bad thing that can happen is if you ascend while holding your breath. If you go deeper for longer, then nitrogen which is 80% of the air you breathe, will dissolve in your blood. If you dive deeper and stay down too long and your blood becomes saturated with nitrogen and then ascend too fast, nitrogen bubbles will pop out in your blood stream like carbonated soda pop when you take the cap off the bottle. This can have horrible permanent consequences if one of these bubbles pops out in your brain not unlike a stroke. It is called the bends because the bubbles congregate in your joints and it is painful to move so you are literally all bent up.
The idea behind the Dive Master insurance requirement is that he will monitor your dive times and depths, to ensure safety. Some insurance policies have a limit of about 90 feet which is about the safe limit of sport diving. You can spend half an hour at that depth without having to worry about saturation problems according to the dive tables.
Let me emphasize that scuba diving is a very safe sport! My analogy is that scuba is like being on the edge of a cliff; it is very safe so long as you don’t step off into space and fall. With diving however, we know that there is a cliff in terms of time and depth, but we can’t see it. I was diving on a car freighter that ran aground on the West Coast of Vancouver Island and sunk bow up at about 30 feet. It was almost standing up on its stern as the bottom had such a steep incline. By the time you got to 90 feet past the deck cranes you were in front of the wheel house with an open hatch to the bridge. The water was very clear and I wanted to go through that hatch and explore, but my 30 minutes was up and if I wanted to stay within safe limits I could not go deeper. I did not step off that cliff, but it occurred to me that if I wasn’t watching my time and depth, I could have easily done so inadvertently given that the water was so clear and I was not with a guide. So you can see why insurers sometimes insist on a professional guide. Realistically, any dive you do as a tourist you want to be guided by a Dive Master anyway because they take you on a tour to all of the good spots on the dive site be it a wreck or a reef with their local knowledge.
There is one specialty travel insurance policy called “DAN” which is an acronym for Divers Alert Network that offers cover for dive tourists. This policy has limitations that many people are unaware of. For example, it covers diving accidents up to $250,000 but only covers other accidents up to a very small limit of $10,000. Also, they have a limitation that it only covers you if you are diving 100 or more km from your home. So for the dive master that was using it as his international medical insurance in Malaysia, you’re not covered for diving there as your home is not Germany but now Malaysia since you live and work there. For a sail boat cruiser that was using it as his international medical insurance policy, $10,000 is a drop in the bucket for non diving related accidents and it only covers for accidents, nothing else. It is meant for dive tourism so please use it as such and it will certainly be an adequate supplement to your travel or medical insurance if those don’t cover scuba.